Positions have shifted considerably with another week in the books. How does the latest version of the 2014 NFL mock draft. How do the first fifteen picks play out?
#1 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina
Mike Glennon has a long way to go before he’s ready to take that next step, but he appears talented and smart enough if given the time. So the Tampa Bay Buccaneers forego a quarterback and go with the best overall prospect on the board. Jadeveon Clowney has drawn all sorts of questions about his durability and his committment to South Carolina, but even playing at 80% health or effort he is the best pass rusher in this class and has the chance to become the best over the past decade.
#2 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Louisville
Everyone knows where the Jacksonville Jaguars are going with their pick. Gus Bradley seems to have a handle on the defense. What he needs is somebody who can make good use of it by scoring points. Regardless of recent arguments, Teddy Bridgewater out of Louisville is the best prospect in this class. He’s big, athletic, highly intelligent, calm and consistent in his mechanics. He’s proven he can play big in big situations and is down to earth in terms of his maturity level. If anyone is ready to become a franchise quarterback, it’s him.
#3 – St. Louis Rams (from ATL) – Marcus Mariota – QB – Oregon
Some might argue the strength of the quarterback class in this 2014 NFL mock draft will prevent teams from trading up. Don’t buy it. Especially if Marcus Mariota declares from Oregon. The uber-talented sophomore is becoming just as coveted as Bridgewater, and the team to go after him is the St. Louis Rams. Thanks to their Robert Griffin III trade in 2012, they hold two first round picks. In this case the #9 and #11 choices. With Minnesota, Houston and Oakland picking ahead of them, they can’t risk Mariota lasting that long. So they make a deal with Atlanta, who has no need for a quarterback, and move up to get him. This signals the end of the Sam Bradford era.
#4 – Houston Texans – Anthony Barr – OLB – UCLA
Case Keenum appears to have the attention of the Houston Texans. He’s obviously still a rookie and not playing with the kind of efficiency befitting a starter, but there is promise in his game. So they hold off on taking a quarterback here and instead give J.J. Watt a running mate on defense. Anthony Barr is the second best defender in the 2014 class. He’s big, fast, strong, adept at making plays against the run and rushing the passer. He profiles as an outside linebacker in a 3-4, which could give Houston the best rush tandem in pro football.
#5 – Minnesota Vikings – C.J. Mosley – OLB – Alabama
With Bridgewater and Mariota off the board, the Minnesota Vikings are left with a tough decision. Are any of the remaining quarterbacks worth the #5 pick? In this case they don’t believe so, and instead look to upgrade their league-worst defense. Linebacker is one of their weakest areas, so they take Alabama standout C.J. Mosley. Often lost on a roster of great talent, the underscored kid is the pulse of the Crimson Tide defense. He is their leader in the middle, able to cover sideline to sideline with his speed and possessing the athleticism to drop into coverage.
#6 – Buffalo Bills – Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix – FS – Alabama
Arming E.J. Manuel with more weapons is the mission of the Buffalo Bills, but their defense also needs a lot of work. One area that might become a problem, if it isn’t already, is safety. Two-time Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd only returned recently and hasn’t looked like himself. On top of that there is a strong possibility he might leave in free agency next year. So finding a replacement is very important. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix is the best safety in this class. He reads quarterbacks well and makes great breaks on the football in coverage. Physically, he can matchup with any receiver or tight end.
#7 – New York Giants – Stephon Tuitt – DE – Notre Dame
Though the defense has improved since their horrid start to 2013, the New York Giants pass rush is still a major problem. Justin Tuck is not the player he was and Jason Pierre-Paul still hasn’t recovered from surgery on his injured back. As a result they have the second-worst pass rush in the league. Improving it is a huge point of emphasis if they want to regain their championship form. Stephon Tuitt might look like an unusual pick at this spot, but there is no denying his physical potential. Despite a very large frame as a 3-4 defensive end at Notre Dame he maintains a quickness and speed that make him highly versatile, able to play inside as defensive tackle or even outside in a 4-3. Such versatility is hard to come come.
#8 – Oakland Raiders – Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
If Terrelle Pryor really is the answer for the Oakland Raiders at quarterback, then they must do everything possible to maximize his ability. That means either giving him better protection or better weapons. Here they go after help at wide receiver. Sammy Watkins is the best in his class: big, strong, explosive off the line and fast enough to beat corners deep. His greatest asset though is the ability to turn a short pass into a long gain with runs after the catch. Perhaps putting him across from Denarius Moore could give Oakland a solid 1-2 punch moving forward.
#9 – Atlanta Falcons (from STL) – Jake Matthews – OT – Texas A&M
Having collected extra picks in their trade with St. Louis, the Atlanta Falcons look to reload their roster around Matt Ryan to take another run at a Super Bowl. Their first addition is something the Pro Bowler hasn’t ever had in his career, which is a franchise left tackle. Jake Matthews can play either the left or right side but given his impressive physical abilities from strength to quickness and athleticism, he is suited for the left side. He can open up holes on the ground or simply fall back and stonewall top pass rushers. Whatever his team asks, he can do.
#10 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Derek Carr – QB – Fresno State
Ben Roethlisberger is not happy with the Pittsburgh Steelers and rumors have swirled that he wants out after the 2013 season. Whether that is true will depend on time and unforseen events. However, if true then the Steelers just became players for a quarterback next May. The 2014 NFL mock draft bears that out when they hatch a rather large surprise. Derek Carr is viewed as a possible late first round pick thanks to his ongoing incredible year for FresnoState. He is smart, dedicated, and possesses an array of skills that could easily translate to success in the pros. Scheme-wise, he is the best fit for an offense that uses a quick passing game. That is what Toddy Haley wants to run in Pittsburgh.
#11 – Atlanta Falcons (from STL) – Khalil Mack – OLB – Buffalo
Defense is what has held the Atlanta Falcons back for years, particularly their remarkably inconsistent pass rush. Improving the entire front seven is a task they must undertake in order to take advantage of an underrated secondary. Based on the current board they land a versatile playmaker in Khalil Mack. Coming out of Buffalo, the linebacker can do a little bit of everything. He covers the run between both sidelines, drops into coverage and has more than a little ability to rush the passer. While not a pure defensive end, he can become a perfect three-down linebacker under Mike Nolan.
#12 – Cleveland Browns – Brett Hundley – QB – UCLA
With the Steelers pulling off the stunner with Carr, the Cleveland Browns go after a more accepted quarterback on the board in Brett Hundley out of UCLA. Their needs for stability at the position warrant the choice despite concerns about his maturity on the field. Indeed there is no guarantee Hundley will leave school early next May but until that information is available, so is he. Experience aside, Hundley has all the tools. He can move around every bit as well as Mariota and has the equally effective arm. Where he needs work is his pocket presence and delivering the football accurately. Rob Chudzinski can help him with that.
#13 – San Diego Chargers – Vic Beasley – DE – Clemson
Pass defense is a serious problem for the San Diego Chargers. Philip Rivers doesn’t have the weaponry to carry the team by himself, which is why improving the other side of the ball is so important if they want to compete next year. That means either bolstering the pass rush or the secondary. Here they decide to go with a much-needed outside linebacker. Vic Beasley is a defensive end for Clemson but his physical skill set and body type hints at a probable switch to the outside in a 3-4. San Diego needs someone with his explosion and speed in the pass rush.
#14 – Miami Dolphins – Taylor Lewan – OT – Michigan
Everything starts up front. Until the Miami Dolphins give Ryan Tannehill the protection he needs, they won’t ever know how good he can be. Thanks to the Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito fiasco, they will likely need help everywhere. In this case they get lucky by landing Taylor Lewan out of Michigan. The big left tackle is a polished prospect, able to use his large body and athleticism to either drive defenders back in the run game or anchor against the pass rush. He can start right away and with time become a bookend for the next ten years.
#15 – Baltimore Ravens – Eric Ebron – TE – North Carolina
Tight end pretty much tells the story of why the Baltimore Ravens have struggled so much offensively this season. The loss of Dennis Pitta has hampered quarterback Joe Flacco, and the Ravens could lose him and their reserves in free agency. That means they are favorites find a replacement depending on their draft position. Sitting at #15, they can feel safe using their pick on Eric Ebron out of North Carolina. Often compared to Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame, he is a fast, athletic big man with the leaping ability of a basketball player with the soft hands to make tough catches over the middle.